Thursday, October 18, 2012
1930s America's Great Depression - Charles Sheeler's Modernist, Precisionist Views
During the Great Depression, an abstract movement in American art flourished with a style noted for clean-cut, severe lines; simple forms; large areas of flat color; & smooth finishes. The style conveyed a general sense of calm, good order, & precision. Often the subjects were architectural or industrial & usually devoid of human reference but suggesting that those industrial structures cut through people's lives psychologically. Precisionist Painters, sometimes called The Immaculates, simply shared a style & certain convictions about art. Among them are Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Georges Ault, Niles Spencer & Ralston Crawford.
Pennsylvanian Charles Sheeler created paintings, a few lithographs, & photographs reflecting his aesthetic interest in industrial scenes of the early 20th-century American landscape. Sheeler was born in Philadelphia & studied there at the School of Industrial Art, from 1900-02. He then studied with William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1903-06.
The young artist traveled to Europe, several times traveling with Chase, & from 1908-10, with Morton Schamberg. On this trip, his interest in modern art, especially Fauvism, was awakened. Influenced by Paul Cezanne & Cubism, Sheeler was very much a part of the early-20th century New York avant-garde art world. He spent years trying to shake-off the more representational style of Chase, who became so irritated with his former student's rebellion, that he quit speaking to him.
His mature paintings are abstractions of facades with details isolated in space. While he often used industrial landscapes, he also was drawn to the clean lines of Shaker structures and to the barns of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He also pioneered in using sharp-focus techniques in response to the parallel precisionist movement in photography.
In 1917, Sheeler's signature work began with the exhibiting of a painting, Barn Abstraction. Striving for precision & simplification, he was much influenced by Shaker artifacts & by his interest in commercial photography. "Photography is nature seen from the eyes outward, painting from the eyes inward," Charles Sheeler, 1938.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the objects in his paintings were more realistic but more abstract in arrangement. In the 1940s, his work showed disembodied planes & forms often suggesting industrial shapes. He died in Dobbs Ferry, New York in 1965.